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A controversial job position and garden appear to have been nothing more than slush fund, which may have wound up in the pocket of a powerful alderman.

In November, RebelPundit first reported on the 2010 job created by Northside College Preparatory High School’s “school community outreach,” which was paid for with money from the Friends of Northside Prep non-profit and a grant of $170K for their Celestial Gardens project, which included six park benches and a sixteen foot obelisk.

Following the report, RebelPundit submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for more information on both these transactions.

RebelPundit asked who exactly was hired into the position of “school community outreach” in 2010 and a line by line breakdown of the expenses to justify the grant. The law office for Chicago Public Schools provided the same response to each FOIA request, “We have conducted a search for records responsive to this request. No records, responsive to your request were located.”

FOIA officer Cassandra Daniels failed to respond to five messages for clarification.

RebelPundit reached out to members of the Northside College Prep Local School Council, which approved the “school community outreach” position in 2010.

Both Kathy Andrade and Meredith O’Connor claimed the current “school community outreach” representative is William Miller, however, when RebelPundit followed up asking if he held the position in 2010, neither responded.

Andrade, who is still on the LSC board, and O’Connor, who is no longer on the board, are sisters, and O’Connor is the sister-in-law of 40th Ward Alderman Pat O’Connor.

Ms. Andrade followed up her initial statement with more information which added to the confusion.

“I believe the previous title for this position was a “facilities manager.” My recollection is that Mr. Miller is responsible for managing the room reservations, assisting with technology set up for school and rental events, and coordinating facility rentals to the community at large.”

According to her Linkedin account, the facilities manager at Northside College Prep from 2004-2011 was Marnie O’Reilly, and furthermore, according to job listings from Chicago Public Schools, facilities managers have entirely different job descriptions than do school community outreach representatives.

Facilities managers are jobs which are hired out of the main office in CPS and their job description reads: “reports to Lead Facility Manager (LFM) position while also working effectively in cross functional teams across departments within CPS.”

A school community outreach representative has this job description: “The School Community Representative (SCR) acts as a liaison between the school and its families and the community.  The SCR supports a variety of Culture & Climate initiatives to ensure successful implementation of the CPS All School Transformation Model.”

Ms. Andrade failed to respond when this was brought to her attention.

Faith Spencer also sent Rebel Pundit an email initially to say the school community outreach representative was not a paid position of the LSC, but failed to respond when asked who held the position in 2010.

The Friends of Northside College Prep, the non-profit which funded the 2010 position, failed to respond to several emails for comment.

Lauren Huffman, a media relations specialist for the CPS, also didn’t respond to two emails for comment.

Because the position was paid out of a non-profit, it would have made it much easier to hide a ghost job as it would be funded outside of the normal school budget.

Since Ms. O’Reilly was already the facilities manager, it would not have made sense to hire another position with a different job title to do the same job.

The celestial garden’s grant for $170,127 was approved by the Chicago City Council in January 2009, but it appears that no line-by-line breakdown of the expenses was ever provided.

According to the ordinance posted online, a line-by-line breakdown is not found within the ordinance and there are no addendums posted.

Ms. Andrade and Ms. Spencer also failed to respond by providing a line-by-line breakdown of the expenses.

In any normal grant process, the individual or entity receiving a grant should provide the grantor with a line-by-line breakdown of where the money would be spent because without such a breakdown the grant is effectively a slush fund.

RebelPundit has further learned that Friends of Northside Prep did fundraising for the celestial gardens on its own, starting as early as 2002, and the total raised was $43,790.

All those contacted by RebelPundit were warned that without a response the article would indicate that both the school community outreach position and the celestial gardens grant would appear to be a slush fund if no further explanation was provided, still none responded.

According to a July 2014 Chicago Tribune article, the funding of the celestial gardens is now part of a campaign finance investigation against Alderman O’Connor:

Another campaign finance allegation centers on a city grant for a garden project to Friends of North Side College Prep, an organization controlled by a local school council on which Meredith O’Connor, the alderman’s sister-in-law and a former city worker, was a member. Her husband, Daniel O’Connor, has donated $13,885 since 2001 to his the campaign of his brother, the alderman, according to state campaign finance records.

When Meredith O’Connor communicated with RebelPundit, she was using the home email of her husband, Dan O’Connor, though she failed to explain why this email was used when asked.

3 Responses

  1. Johnny be good

    So, if I understand this correctly, with no evidence other than the fact that people who have actual jobs to do were either unable or unwilling to spend the time digging up the information you were too lazy to get on your own, this is all it takes for you to accuse them of running a slush fund? You do realize that in the article above you have admitted to employing a logical fallacy in the attempt to coerce information from people who may or may not have said information? Did it ever occur to you to contact the grantor and ask them if they were satisfied with the accounting? How do we know that you’re not a political hack flailing about in hopes of shaking some green loose from some money tree? If you’re going to get into muckraking, the generally accepted practice is to find someone else’s muck to bring to light, not fling your own home brewed nonsense on them when you can’t get that done.

    • Michael Volpe

      It’s the FOIA department’s job to get this information and it should be attached to the original bill, and I contacted the FOIA department and the bill doesn’t have the breakdown. I’m not sure what you mean by grantor as I contacted both the city of Chicago and and Friends of Northside College Prep, the entity which originated and received the grant, and neither would give me a line by line breakdown of this grant.

  2. Doubting Thomas

    City council site says the grant came from transfer of Open Space impact fees. In January 2009 when the ordinance was approved, the non-profit Friends of Northside College Prep had been dissolved in 2007 by Illinois Secretary of State. How does Chicago Corporation Counsel sign off on a grant to a non-existent legal entity ?

    Tim Devine appears to have fund raised for that garden since 2002 and many parents bragged about donating time like architect firm that did NCP construction. Global Trotters and a parent that does mosaic tile projects elsewhere were listed as pro bono. Found another grant award from Oppenheimer on celestial garden project. How much money did they need for that sun dial 🙂 and benches

    IRS 990s if you pull for this non profit look messy. The city grant said restricted use only. But they converted to unrestricted use? Did I read that correctly ?

    Well IRS 990s don’t seem to account for it. City cannot find any estimates or attachments the ordinance referenced ?

    Brickman group pulled a permit and it didn’t match $170,000

    How much are 16 ft obelisks like they have at Rose Hill Cemetery ? Well, not that expensive it appears. Call few suppliers and you see

    I will print the article and all the IRS 990s, along with city documents available and see if whatever IG, or IRS can take look. It seems not to add up.

    The NCP wonder boy principal Barry Rogers – ole Arne Duncan’s ” Blue Ribbon” sure ran off from CPS 299 in a hurry. Seems like he landed up at school north where Daniel Mahru’s wife worked.

    Barry likely recalls that garden grant estimate for $170,000, since he would have paid the bills after LSC doled out cash from FON grant.

    I’m not surprised but a magnet school should have good local accounting for expenses. Especially one of the best in USA ! Right ?


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